Why we need to counteract climate change
Carbon dioxide and other chemical emissions are an increasingly prominent issue around the world, especially in urban areas, due to the high usage of fossil fuels for electricity.
Tuesday, December 13, 2011 - 21:54
HERE COMES THE SUN: It's important to investigate energy sources like solar. (Photo: dboyone/Flickr)
A major current global problem is the effect (namely, the carbon footprint) of fossil fuels on the environment. Carbon dioxide and other toxic chemical emissions are an increasingly prominent issue around the world, especially in urban areas, due to the high usage of fossil fuels as a source of electricity. The combustion of fossil fuels is contributing to the so-called “greenhouse effect”, through which carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and other dangerous gases absorb Infrared radiation in the atmosphere. In fact, methane can trap 20 times more heat than carbon can. This, in turn, causes an increase in Earth’s surface temperature.
Other human activities can intensify the greenhouse effect by releasing harmful greenhouse gases. For example, methane can be produced by landfills and the digestive systems of animals. The warming of the atmosphere is resulting in the melting of polar ice caps. Aside from contributing significantly to climate change, greenhouse gases also result in acid rain, the release of toxic heavy metals, which cause a (documented) increased risk for cancer. These problems are especially prominent here on Long Island, as well as in New York City. Fossil fuel producers have both powerful political allies and a powerful propaganda machine that denigrates alternatives.
By consequence, it is important to investigate this issue and create a more environmentally friendly energy source, like solar power. As Paul Krugman points out in his New York Times Editorial, we are on the cusp of an energy transformation, driven by the rapidly falling cost of solar power. In fact, progress in solar panels has been so dramatic and sustained that, as a blog post at Scientific American put it, “there’s now frequent talk of a ‘Moore’s law’ in solar energy,” with prices adjusted for inflation falling around 7 percent a year. This has already led to rapid growth in solar installations. If the downward trend continues — and, if anything, it seems to be accelerating — we’re just a few years from the point at which electricity from solar panels will become cheaper than electricity generated by burning coal.
According to a research paper authored by Nancy Pfund, a managing partner of DBL Investors of San Francisco (which backs renewable energy ventures), and Ben Healey, an environmentalist (who is earning a joint master’s degree in business administration and engineering management at Yale titled “What Would Jefferson Do?”): “He would do what our country has always done — support emerging technologies – to drive innovation, create jobs, protect our environment, enhance our national security in a time of rapid change and to further a distinctly American way of life in which resources once thought to be endless are replaced by ones that actually are.”
Perhaps it is time to listen.